Trump tape is a turning point in legal game of cat-and-mouse


Staff/wire reports

WASHINGTON

The sudden public airing of Donald Trump talking about paying for a Playboy model’s silence marks a turning point in the legal game of cat-and-mouse between the president and the lawyer who once promised to take a bullet for Trump but now seems out to save himself.

The feud between Trump and his onetime legal “fixer,” Michael Cohen, escalated when an audio recording of their 2016 pre-election conversation was released Tuesday by Cohen, prompting Trump to tweet Wednesday: “What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad!”

As the two sides battled over the exact meaning of the sometimes-garbled words on the recording, it was clear that the tape could be just an opening volley. At least a dozen more recordings were seized from Cohen’s office as well as hundreds of thousands of documents.

CNN.com reported Wednesday that CNN has hired an audio expert to analyze the tape.

The tape, made just weeks before the 2016 election, appears to undermine Trump’s contention that he was not aware of a payment to former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, who has alleged she had an affair with the married future president.

That raises questions about possible campaign finance violations. It shows Cohen advising Trump on campaign matters, and that could be of interest to investigators looking into whether the lawyer violated election laws by orchestrating hush-money payouts.

Cohen says on the tape he’s already spoken with the Trump Organization’s finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, on “how to set the whole thing up.” Weisselberg’s involvement has led to speculation about whether Trump’s private business tried to protect his campaign.

Trump’s lawyers say the payments were never made.

The tape’s revelations also mark a new chapter for Cohen, who, as he mulls cooperating with federal prosecutors and perhaps special counsel Robert Mueller, is viewed by many in Trump’s orbit as the greatest threat to the former businessman’s presidency.

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